Hong Kong: The Fear of Crumbling Autonomy

By Sabine Tessono

    Hong Kong has always held a unique position in both Asian and European history. Originally conquered and assimilated into Imperial China’s territory thousands of years ago, the region’s primary purpose was to establish governmental power and further various Chinese dynasties’ influence. By the 16th century however, many European countries saw Hong Kong as a region filled with potential trading posts to gain Chinese resources such as silks, tea, spices, and porcelain. British traders in particular wanted to overcome the lopsided economic deals with China by transporting opium through Hong Kong, but ultimately ended up straining relations between the two nations, culminating in the Opium Wars and British occupation of the region.

Yet, through years of negotiations and treaties, the colony was eventually transferred back to China in 1997 after 156 years of rule by Great Britain--the main stipulation being that Hong Kong would retain autonomy and separate legal, economic, and governmental systems. And so, the Chinese concept of “one country, two systems” was implemented in the territory now known as a “Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China”. But in the last couple of decades, Chinese interference in Hong Kong has raised the question of whether this principle has ever been honored since its creation.

    One of the most recent examples of this questionable behavior occurred just over a week ago, when officials announced plans to put a section of a future train station in Hong Kong under mainland Chinese law. According to Hong Kong representatives, the billion dollar project’s main goal is to “link the city to 44 destinations across China and connect it to the world’s largest high-speed railway network”, which will enable thousands of passengers to travel across Chinese soil with relative ease, while incorporating more territory into China’s modernized infrastructure. The justification behind this annexation of the station lies in the belief that the deal will cut down on unnecessary border procedures and help ease the process of immigration and customs.

    Unsurprisingly, this decision has caused fear, worry, and anger amongst those who fight to maintain Hong Kong’s uniquely autonomic system. The Civic Party, a pro-democratic party in the territory, described the implementation of mainland laws signifying a lack of “protection from any of the two human rights conventions” and a hit on the city’s constitution.  Others, like Steve Tsang, director of the SOAS China Institute in London, claim that because of the unequal power dynamic between the two sides, Hong Kong will have to work harder to keep back the ever increasing threat of Chinese influence, and potentially, annexation. With events such as two Hong Kong lawmakers being deprived of their elected seats due to derogatory language towards the mainland, or even taboo topics such as pro-democracy supporters calling out China’s ignoring of the Tiananmen Square crackdown, it is difficult to deny the existence of some sort of suppression being carried out within the territory of Hong Kong.

    The main problem for both mainland China and Hong Kong is to bridge the gap between their political and economic systems in order to reach the agreed understanding that was promised decades ago. If China continues to attempt to influence and change the unique nature of Hong Kong’s infrastructure and society, heavier conflict could arise down the road, causing the two sides to lose the mutual benefits they gain from their connection. But the true burden lies with Hong Kong’s desire for a more secure democratic state, while balancing its tense, but necessary connection with China.